Garikai Mazara Herald Reporter
The Zimbabwe National Road Administration (Zinara) has embarked on a major staff shake-up which workers allege is a purge of staff to cover up for years of financial impropriety. Zinara allegedly owes its creditors a cumulative debt of US$40 million as of November last year.
The parastatal, which collects in excess of US$5,5 million per month from 26 tollgates, owes among its debtors – the Development Bank of South Africa (US$12,8 million), NMB (US$8,5 million), the Department of Roads (US$5 million) and Cimas an unspecified amount in arrears for employees’ medical aid cover.
It also collects around US$130 million annually from road access fees, vehicle licensing, transit fees, and fuel levy, among other revenue streams.
Transport and Infrastructural Development minister Dr Obert Mpofu yesterday said he is still to be briefed on the issue.
“I have not been given an update on the matter as I was not in office. I will be in office tomorrow (today). You can contact board chair Mr Mugabe (Albert) as these matters are under his jurisdiction,” he said.
Efforts to contact Mr Mugabe were however fruitless as his phone was not reachable.
The staff shake-up, which has raised a stink among senior management, has already claimed the scalp of Mr Thomas Mutizhe, who was the financial director, with more dismissals expected in the coming weeks.
Although Mr Mutizhe was handed a letter of suspension on November 27 last year with promises of a disciplinary hearing coming “in due course”, no hearing has yet been conducted.
Instead, the authority has offered him an exit package, further raising questions about the grounds for his suspension.
Zinara has offered to pay off the balance on the mortgage for his house, and given him a Discovery 4 vehicle among other benefits totalling about US$400 000.
Senior management sources within the roads authority allege that the purge is part of a cover-up of corrupt activities that have been rampant at Zinara.
Documents in possession of The Herald show that Zinara entered into a contract with Univern Enterprises (Pvt) Ltd in November 2012 for the supply of 40 graders at a cost of US$8 million. The director of administration, Mr Precious Murove, signed the contract on behalf of Univern.
Currently, Mr Murove is the acting chief executive, acting finance director and director of administration.
In the contract with Univern, former chief executive Mr Frank Chitukutuku signed on behalf of Zinara with former board members Mr Abdul Kassim and Mr Ben Kaschula appending their signatures as witnesses.
Mr Murove’s signature on the contract has raised ethical and procedural questions, further casting doubts on the authority’s corporate governance.
Questions were later raised by recipient district councils on the suitability of the graders which were said to be designed for very cold climates as they had snow ploughs.
A legal expert who spoke on condition of anonymity said under the Companies Act it was wrong for the receiver of a service to sign on behalf of the service provider.
“Not only is it illegal, it does raise a stink . . . the most crucial question being, whose interests he was serving? If someone was to raise questions of under-hand dealings, sure there are reasonable grounds to suspect so,” said the legal expert.
Mr Murove said he could not comment on the issue over the phone as he needed clearance from the acting chief executive, the board and the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructural Development before he could talk to the media.
He requested written questions, but had not responded to the emailed questions by the time of going to press.
Besides Mr Murove signing on behalf of Univern, sources in Zinara also alleged the authority had gone into the multimillion-dollar contract without seeking technical advice from relevant stakeholders like engineers and the finance department.
The Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe said they had not been consulted during the tender process and that most of the graders were lying idle because they were too expensive to service and consumed twice as much fuel as the old ones they were using.
Guruve council said it had parked its grader insisting it was too expensive to run and was not suitable for the local terrain.
Zinara’s acting chief executive, Engineer Moses Juma, recently admitted to Parliament that the graders were fitted with snow-clearing ploughs.
A list of Zinara creditors seen by this publication shows that service providers from as far back as 2012 have not been paid their dues, while others who provided services much later have been paid.
For instance, service providers who repaired the Bindura-Shamva road in 2012 are yet to be paid.
The indiscriminate manner in which the service providers have been paid has seen some withdrawing their services, a reason given for delays in the completion of the Airport Road.
In a recent Press statement the road authority blamed the onset of the rains for abandoning the project, saying roadworks would resume after the rains.
But civil engineers, who cannot be named for professional reasons, argued that if Europe which experiences almost year-round rainfalls has its roads constructed, serviced and maintained, why can’t the same be done in Zimbabwe?
Sources in Zinara allege that corruption is at the centre of delays in the completion of road construction projects.
“This must be one of the reasons why the acting chief executive officer (Mr Juma), in connivance with some board members, wanted to have the financial director fired as quickly as possible, because there is a lot of financial impropriety that is going on,” said a source.
“For instance, Zinara’s creditors are aged, according to how long the service provider has not been paid, and they must be paid according to the age of their credit but in most instances there is always interference on who gets paid.”